Rush to pass Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill condemned by political and Indigenous leaders across WA

Hannah CrossSound Telegraph
WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson at the Kimberley Land Council's protest against the proposed Aboriginal Heritage Bill in  August.
Camera IconWA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson at the Kimberley Land Council's protest against the proposed Aboriginal Heritage Bill in August. Credit: Hannah Cross

The State Government has been accused of trying to rush the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 through Parliament by attempting to earmark the legislation as “urgent” after it was introduced to Parliament last Wednesday.

Shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs Vincent Catania said he was concerned about the lack of appropriate consultation with traditional owners on the final version of the Bill.

“A piece of legislation as sensitive as this must have extensive consultation with traditional owners, heritage professionals and native title groups,” he said.

“We are also concerned about the power of approval held by the minister responsible, who will have the final say over whether certain developments can go ahead.”

Opposition Leader Mia Davies has also accused the Labor Government of ignoring proper processes by briefing the Opposition just one day before the Bill was to be introduced to Parliament.

“I question why, with such important legislation, they are refusing to follow normal processes and give the Opposition and stakeholders the courtesy to review and prepare to contribute to the debate,” Ms Davies said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson said the Bill was the result of “extensive consultation” with traditional owners and stakeholders.

“These laws build on the many successful examples of collaboration between Aboriginal people and industry, and empower traditional owners to negotiate agreements that can deliver broad outcomes and benefits for their communities,” Mr Dawson said.

But South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, which represents Noongar traditional owners, said the decision to rush the Bill through Parliament was “disturbing”.

“Aboriginal people and the wider public have all been unable to read and consider the Bill until it was released less than 24 hours before being tabled along with an urgency motion,” SWALSC chair Brendan Moore said.

“We (SWALSC) consider it to be an unjustified use of the powers and majority this Government has been entrusted with by the people of Western Australia. There is simply no reason to rush this bill through without oversight, and against the wishes of the majority of Aboriginal people.”

Other Indigenous leaders across the State have condemned the Bill in its entirety, with Kimberley Land Council chair Anthony Watson labelling the Bill “whitewashing”.

Yamatji Noongar woman and Greens Senator for WA Dorinda Cox and South MLC Brad Pettitt will be joined by Kimberley Land Council’s Anthony Watson to respond to the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill. Pictured is Anthony Watson at State Parliament
Camera IconKimberley Land Council chair Anthony Watson talks about the Bill at State Parliament. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

“Aboriginal concerns about Aboriginal heritage have been ignored. Once again, decisions about heritage will be made by non-Aboriginal people,” Mr Watson said.

“This legislation was supposed to be a reform. We cannot see how it improves protection of sites that cannot be replaced.”

Mr Moore said SWALSC “does not support the Bill in its current form” and that it did not meet traditional owners’ minimum expectations.

“While it (the Bill) offers some improvements on the 1972 Bill, in the wake of the destruction of Juukan Gorge, the minimum we expect is an Act strong enough to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. We are not confident the draft Bill will do this,” he said.

“As long as the minister retains a final say on heritage matters, with no right of appeal for traditional owners, it remains possible for another Juukan Gorge disaster to happen again.”

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